Benedict Cumberbatch stars alongside Claire Foy in The Electrical Life of Louis Wain Movie 2021.
“The experience of being Louis Wain and seeing the world through his eyes was a joy. I adored him and felt bereft when I had to leave him behind. He was such an acute observer, a skill that made him a master illustrator.” Benedict Cumberbatch
An early Louis Wain portrait of Peter. (Courtesy Chris Beetles Gallery, St. James’s, London)
Louis William Wain (1860 – 1939) was an English artist best known for his illustrations of cats and kittens. His illustrations helped introduce the concept of cats as pets to be included in a family and not just as a means of eliminating pests. Wain’s Illustrations progressed from traditional cute cat and kitten pictures to slowly becoming more colorful and anthropomorphized large-eyed cats and kittens. Wain was a prolific artist, sometimes producing as many as several hundred drawings a year.
Wain first started to draw pictures of his black and white cat Peter to amuse and comfort his ailing wife. In addition to his cat illustrations Wain drew illustrations for several authors, mostly for Children’s fairy tales featuring animals under the pseudonym G. H. Thompson. Clifton Bingham's Animals Trip to the Sea with illustrations by Wain was a best seller in it’s day.
The Animals' Trip to Sea By Clifton Bingham Illustrations by GH Thompson (Louis Wain) published in 1900
Wain had a lonely childhood- he was born with a cleft lip and his family doctor gave his parents the orders that he should not be sent to school or taught until he was ten years old to avoid being bullied and ridiculed for his appearance, so he spent a lot of time on his own. As a youth, he was often truant from school and spent much of his childhood wandering around London. Following this period, Louis studied at the West London School of Art and eventually became a teacher there for a short period. At the age of 20, Wain was left to support his mother and his five sisters after his father's death.
If only Big Things were little and little things were Big', watercolor by Louis Wain. A vibrant nocturnal scene of a cat riding a mouse across a meadow, with star-studded sky and several black kittens looking on.
Wain quit his teaching position to become a freelance artist. In this role, he achieved great success. He specialized in drawing animals and country scenes and worked for several journals including the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, where he stayed for four years, and The Illustrated London News, beginning in 1886. Through the 1880s, Wain's work included detailed illustrations of English country houses and estates, along with livestock he was commissioned to draw at agricultural shows. His work at this time includes a wide variety of animals, and he maintained his ability to draw creatures of all kinds throughout his lifetime. At one point, he hoped to make a living by drawing dog portraits.
Cats Fishing by Louis Wain
At the age of 23, Wain married his sisters' governess, Emily Richardson (which was considered scandalous at the time), who was ten years his senior (also scandalous) and the couple moved to Hampstead in North London. Emily soon began to suffer from breast cancer and died three years into their marriage. Louis was the sole support of his mother and 5 unmarried sisters, and even though his work was successful, he was not good with money, and he had no business acumen so most of his art works were not copyrighted, and therefore provided no royalties to help support his family.
A Sunday Night Cat Nap by Louis Wain
As the years passed, his feline characters became more anthropomorphized, eventually walking on two feet, wearing fetching Victorian frocks, and engaging in every activity imaginable, from fly fishing to competing in tug-of-wars. For many years his cat postcards were all the rage in Victorian England.
Wain’s “A Cat’s Christmas Dance,” drawn for the “Illustrated London News” in 1890, features more than 100 anthropomorphic cats. (Courtesy Chris Beetles Gallery, St. James’s, London)
In 1886, Wain's first drawing of anthropomorphized cats was published in the Christmas issue of the Illustrated London News, titled "A Kittens' Christmas Party". The illustration depicted 150 cats, many of which resembled Peter, doing things such as sending invitations, holding a ball, playing games, and making speeches, spread over eleven panels. In this book his cats were still very animal like and did not stand up or wear clothing. As time progressed his cats and animals began to walk upright, smile broadly, and use other exaggerated facial expressions, and would wear sophisticated, contemporary clothing. Wain's illustrations showed cats playing musical instruments, serving tea, playing cards, fishing, smoking, and enjoying a night at the opera.
The Banjo Playing Cat by Louis Wain
In his later years Wain may have suffered from schizophrenia, although this claim is disputed. There is some validity to this diagnosis as Louis’s sister Marie was institutionalized and declared insane as well.
A psychedelic image of a cat sketch by Louis Wain while he was institutionalized
In Victorian England, virtually anyone with any eccentricities seen as outside the norm could easily be labeled with a mental illness. A vivid imagination was often considered a sign of insanity, and combined with his fanciful drawings, inability to provide well for his family, and lack of business skills, it was easy for people to declare him “insane”. But as any true cat lover knows, cats have such unique and distinct personalities it is not hard to imagine them as Louis Wain did, and we are all the better for it.
Benedict Cumberbatch who portrayed Wain in the movie (2021) on the left and Louis Wain on the Right
And in no way trying to promote Amazon Prime, there is a very interesting if not slightly depressing movie that has been recently released that you may want to check out – The Electrical Life of Louis Wain”. The fact that this movie was made with famous and accomplished actors is a tribute to the legacy of Louis Wain.
Movie Poster For The Movie The Electric Life of Louis Wain 2021
While Louis Wain may have had a electric life we are all better for his contributions to society, pets and his wonderful illustrations that we can enjoy stitching!
The Blue Electric Cat by Louis Wain